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Keep taking the tablets?

By Martin Wedge, MD of OVL Group
Thursday, March 5, 2015 - 11:29

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Expert Opinion: Martin Wedge, MD of OVL Group

In his latest opinion piece for FleetPoint, Martin Wedge, MD of OVL Group, looks at the risks for those driving for work under new legislation

The pies, pasties and Pringles consumed behind the wheel make it a stretch of the imagination to think of your average fleet driver as a svelte athlete. But from this week, the driving performance of Mondeo Mike will be viewed the same as Mo Farrah in terms of his consumption of illegal and legal medication.

From 2 March, police will be taking on the role of WADA – the World Anti Doping Agency – to make sure we are not incapacitated by ‘over the counter’ or ‘under the radar’ drugs.

We’re all aware of the drink-driving limits in the UK, but are we as clued up on the new drug-driving limits? Police can already prosecute motorists caught driving under the influence of drugs, including medicinal drugs, but the new rules introduce specified limits for 16 drugs. This is designed not to stop us taking our legal medicines, but to prevent us ‘over self medicating’ and putting ourselves in danger behind the wheel.

The Government drew up the list of 16 drugs and their limited acceptable measures after deciding against a zero limit. This was because certain medicinal drugs can be absorbed in the body and produce trace effects. They also didn’t want to risk penalising drivers for accidental exposure to drugs, such as inhaling cannabis smoke in a public place. The illegal drugs on the list include: Benzoylecgonine (cocaine) – 50 micrograms per litre of blood (µg/L), Cocaine – 10µg/L, Delta-9-Tetrahydrocannabinol (cannabis and cannabinol) – 2µg/L, Ketamine – 20µg/L, LSD – 1µg/L, Methylamphetamine – 10µg/L, MDMA (ecstasy) – 10µg/L, Heroin and diamorphine – 5µg/L.

The legal drugs include: Clonazepam (used to treat seizures and panic disorder) – 50µg/L, Diazepam (anti-anxiety) – 550µg/L, Flunitrazepam (Rohypnol – sedative) – 300µg/L, Lorazepam (anti-anxiety) – 100µg/L, Methadone (heroin substitute) – 500µg/L, Morphine (pain relief) – 80µg/L, Oxazepam (anti-anxiety) – 300µg/L and Temazepam (anti-anxiety and sedative) – 1,000µg/L.

The legal drink-drive limit is 80 milligrams of alcohol per 100ml of blood – the equivalent of 800,000 micrograms per litre.

The limits for the majority of prescription drugs are above the normal doses – the new legislation will give police the power to test and arrest motorists who are suspected of driving over the new levels.

Unlike the existing ‘impairment’ offence, the new law provides a medical defence if you’re taking a prescription in accordance with medical instructions – provided, of course, you’re not impaired. There are of course penalties if you’re convicted of drug-driving. These include a minimum one-year driving ban, a fine up to £5,000 and the obligatory criminal record, which your licence will display for 11 years.

A conviction for drug-driving also means you may not be able to get car insurance – Admiral, and its sister companies, for example, will not cover anyone who has been found guilty of a drug-driving offence.

If you have a driving job your employer will see the conviction on your licence and you may have trouble travelling to certain countries, such as the USA.

It is therefore important that if you drive and take prescription medicine, to keep evidence of this with you in case you’re stopped by police. Also, it would be a wise move to inform your fleet manager or HR department as they will probably want to carry out further investigations as to the exposure to risk if you are on long-term meds.

The law is now tougher so it is no longer just ‘think before you drink’ but ‘hope before you dope’.

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